一边…一边… (yìbiān…yìbiān…): The Complete Guide to Expressing Multitasking in Chinese

yibian yibian chinese

It’s quite common to do be doing more than one active task at once. In fact, this should be something you do often if you want to improve your Chinese, simply try to listen to Chinese audio while doing other things!

That’s not what we are going to talk about in this post, though. Instead, we’re going to look at how to express two simultaneous activities or tasks with the pattern 一边 (yìbiān)… 一边 (yìbiān)… (if you’re not sure why 一 yī here is pronounced with a fourth tone, read this)

How to Use 一边 (yìbiān) 一边 (yìbiān)... 

Let’s look at a few examples of how to use 一边 (yìbiān)… 一边 (yìbiān)… to express simultaneous activities, in this case following up on the idea I mentioned just now about listening to as much Chinese as you can among other things.

你可以一边健身,一边听播客。
Nǐ kěyǐ yìbiān jiànshēn, yìbiān tīng bōkè.
You can listen to podcasts while working out.
(literally, work out & listen to podcasts simultaneously)

你可以一边做饭,一边听电台。
Nǐ kěyǐ yìbiān zuòfàn, yìbiān tīng diàntái.
You can listen to the radio while cooking.
(cook & listen to the radio simultaneously)

你还可以一边做家务,一边听有声书。
Nǐ hái kěyǐ yìbiān zuò jiāwù,  yìbiān tīng yǒushēngshū.
You can also listen to audiobooks while doing household chores.
(do household chores & listen to audiobooks simultaneously)

As you can see, the sentence pattern is quite simple. All you need is

  1. place the subject at the beginning.
  2. use 一边 (yìbiān) twice (or more times, if necessary).
  3. place a “simultaneous” verb after each 一边 (yìbiān).

Pattern

(subject) + 一边 (yìbiān) verb 1 + 一边 (yìbiān) verb 2

* the subject can be omitted if it’s self-evident from the context.

You can use this pattern to express any active tasks that you’re doing. Let’s have a look at more examples.

  • 我喜欢一边看书,一边喝茶。
    Wǒ xǐhuan yìbiān kàn shū, yìbiān hē chá.
    I like drinking tea while reading books.
    (read books & drink tea simultaneously)
  • 我经常一边上课,一边玩手机。
    Wǒ jīngcháng yìbiān shàngkè, yìbiān wán shǒujī.
    I often play with the phone while attending class.
    (attend class & play with the phone simultaneously)
  • 我和我的朋友一边看电视,一边聊天。
    Wǒ hé wǒde péngyou yìbiān kàn diànshì, yìbiān liáotiān.
    My friends and I are chatting while watching TV.
    (watch TV & chat simultaneously)
  • 一边上大学,一边打工。
    yìbiān shàng dàxué, yìbiān dǎgōng.
    She does odd jobs while attending university.
    (attend university & do odd jobs simultaneously)
  • 他在家一边工作,一边带娃。
    Tā zàijiā yìbiān gōngzuò, yìbiān dàiwá.
    He is babysitting while working at home.
    (work & babysit simultaneously)
work & babysit simultaneously
  • 我不能一边学习,一边听音乐。
    Wǒ bùnéng yìbiān xuéxí, yìbiān tīng yīnyuè
    I can’t listen to music while studying.
    (study & listen to music simultaneously)
  • 一边吃饭一边说话。
    Bié yìbiān chīfàn yìbiān shuōhuà.
    Don’t talk while eating.
    (eat & talk simultaneously)
  • 我们一边一边聊吧。
    Wǒmen yìbiān zǒu yìbiān liáo ba.
    Let’s walk while we talk.
    (walk & talk simultaneously)
  • 师傅, 请不要一边开车一边打电话。
    Shīfu, qǐng búyào yìbiān kāichē yìbiān dǎ diànhuà.
    Driver, please don’t make phone calls while you drive.
    (drive & make phone calls simultaneously)
  • 你为什么一边一边笑?
    Nǐ wèishénme yìbiān kū yìbiān xiào?
    Why are you crying and laughing at the same time?
    (cry & laugh simultaneously)
cry & laugh simultaneously

Notice how the order of the two actions can be different in the English translations and the original Chinese. This is because, in English, the second verb (after the “while”) is usually used to set up the context, while in Chinese it can be used as the main verb. For instance, “I often attend class while playing with the phone” sounds awkward in English, but “I often play with the phone while attending class” doesn’t. In Chinese, “play with the phone” and “attend class” are both main verbs and are equally important in the sentence. The “一边 (yìbiān)… 一边 (yìbiān)…” is used to emphasize the two actions are carried out simultaneously.

When learning a language, its always important to remember that grammatical patterns rarely match up exactly with those in another language. In other words, translations of the same structure will often be different.

When Not to Use 一边 (yìbiān) 一边 (yìbiān)...

1. when the actions are not active or ongoing

To use 一边 (yìbiān)… 一边 (yìbiān)…, both actions have to be active, simultaneous and ongoing tasks.

Even though “while” is the most common translation of 一边 (yìbiān)… 一边 (yìbiān)…, you can’t used it to say that something happened while something else went on. In other words, you should only use the structure to describe the things you are doing intentionally – and for a while, not the things happening to you momentarily.

  • × 我一边吃晚饭, 一边收到他的短信。
    Wǒ yìbiān chī wǎnfàn , yìbiān shōudào tā de duǎnxìn.
    Wrong way to say “I received his text message while I was having dinner”.
    “received” is a one-time motion, not an active, ongoing task.
  • √ 我一边吃晚饭,一边发短信。
    Wǒ yìbiān chī wǎnfàn, yìbiān fā duǎnxìn.
    I texted messages while I was having dinner.
    (You can eat & text at the same time, even for hours)

If you want to express that something happens while something else is going on, you can use …的时候 (de shíhou) instead. Like so:

  • √ 我吃饭的时候,收到了他的短信。
    Wǒ chīfàn de shíhou, shōudào le tā de duǎnxìn.
    When I was having dinner, I received his text message.

2. when the subject shifts

It has to be the same person that does the “juggling”. Don’t use this structure if the tasks are performed by different people.

  • × 我一边做作业,他一边打游戏。
    Wǒ yìbiān zuò zuòyè, tā yìbiān dǎ yóuxì.
    Wrong way to say “He’s playing games while I am doing homework”.
    The subject has to be the same!

In this case, simply split the sentence.

  • √ 我在做作业,他在打游戏。
    Wǒ zài zuò zuòyè, tā zài dǎ yóuxì.
    I am doing homework. He is playing games.

Short Version of 一边 (yìbiān)… 一边 (yìbiān)… 

You can shorten the 一边 (yìbiān)… 一边 (yìbiān)… to just 边 (biān)… 边 (biān)… to give it a less formal feel.

你可以健身,听播客。Nǐ kěyǐ biān jiànshēn, biān tīng bōkè.
→ 你可以健身,听播客。Nǐ kěyǐ biān jiànshēn, biān tīng bōkè.
You can listen to podcasts when working out.

It works exactly the same. You are free to use 边 (biān)… 边 (biān)… whenever you want to sound relaxed and casual. It also helps to keep your sentence short and concise, which is favored by native speakers.

Pattern

(subject) + 边 (biān) verb 1 + 边 (biān) verb 2

Let’s switch the 一边 (yìbiān)… 一边 (yìbiān)… to just 边 (biān)… 边 (biān)… in the previous examples.

  • 我喜欢看书,喝茶。
    Wǒ xǐhuan biān kàn shū, biān hē chá.
    I like drinking tea while reading books.
  • 我经常上课,玩手机。
    Wǒ jīngcháng biān shàngkè, biān wán shǒujī.
    I often play with the phone while attending class.
  • 我和我的朋友看电视,聊天。
    Wǒ hé wǒde péngyou biān kàn diànshì, biān liáotiān.
    My friends and I are chatting while watching TV.
  • 上大学,打工。
    biān shàng dàxué, biān dǎgōng.
    She does odd jobs while attending university.
  • 他在家工作,带娃。
    Tā zàijiā biān gōngzuò, biān dàiwá.
    He is babysitting while working at home.
  • 我不能学习,听音乐。
    Wǒ bùnéng biān xuéxí, biān tīng yīnyuè
    I can’t listen to music while studying.
  • 吃饭说话。
    Bié biān chīfàn biān shuōhuà.
    Don’t talk while eating.
  • 我们聊吧。
    Wǒmen biān zǒu biān liáo ba.
    Let’s walk while we talk.
  • 师傅, 请不要开车打电话。
    Shīfu, qǐng búyào biān kāichē biān dǎ diànhuà.
    Driver, please don’t make phone calls while you drive.
  • 你为什么笑?
    Nǐ wèishénme biān kū biān xiào?
    Why are you crying and laughing at the same time?
Short version of 一边 (yìbiān)… 一边 (yìbiān)… is 边 (biān)… 边 (biān)…

Similar Expressions to 一边 (yìbiān) 一边 (yìbiān)...

Alternatively, you can use 一面 (yímiàn)…一面… (yímiàn) to express two simultaneous actions. It’s used in the same way, but just sounds a bit more formal (thus less heard in spoken Chinese).

你可以一面健身,一面听播客。
Nǐ kěyǐ yímiàn jiànshēn, yímiàn tīng bōkè.
You can listen to podcasts while working out.

我喜欢一面看书,一面喝茶。
Wǒ xǐhuan yímiàn kàn shū, yímiàn hē chá.
I like drinking tea while reading books.

Just note that 一面 (yímiàn)…一面…(yímiàn) can be used not only when someone performs two tasks simultaneously, but also when they switch from one task to another, or perform two or more tasks in rapid succession.

For example, the question “你为什么一面一面笑?(Nǐ wèishénme yímiàn kū yímiàn xiào?)” can both mean “Why are you crying and laughing at the same time?” and “ Why are you switching between crying and laughing rapidly?”. The final meaning will depend on the context.

Besides, 一面 (yímiàn) cannot be shortened to 面 (miàn) like 一边 (yìbiān)… 一边 (yìbiān)… to 边 (biān)… 边 (biān)…

  • × 你为什么笑?
    Nǐ wèishénme miàn kū miàn xiào?
  • √ 你为什么笑?
    Nǐ wèishénme biān kū biān xiào?

Grammar Summary: yibian…yibian…

  • 一边 (yìbiān)… 一边 (yìbiān)… is used for expressing simultaneous actions.
  • Both actions have to be active and ongoing tasks, and done by the same subject.
  • Basic pattern: (subject) + 一边 (yìbiān) verb 1 + 一边 (yìbiān) verb 2
  • The short version of 一边 (yìbiān)… 一边 (yìbiān)… is 边 (biān)… 边 (biān)…

Remember, grammar is the glue that holds the pieces of language together, so don’t forget to check other grammar articles on ImproveMandarin.Com’s Grammar Channel! 谢谢 (xièxie) for reading this post!